The influence of national culture on response be­haviour during an evacuation

An agent-based approach

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Accidents in buildings happen frequently and if people are not evacuated in time, this can have major consequences. The behaviour of building occupants is one of the most critical determinants herein.
Evacuation behaviour consists of two phases: the response phase and the evacuation movement phase. During the response phase, a building occupant is notified of an incident and performs a series of information and action tasks. When the response phase is finished, a building occupant will initiate movement towards an exit or safe place during the evacuation movement phase.
In this thesis, the focus is on response-phase behaviour. There are many factors influencing response-phase behaviour, four of these are: culture, cues, affiliation and setting.
Culture is defined as "the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others". For this research, national cultures have been considered.
Cues are any kind of changes in the environment, which indicate that something is not normal. Affiliation encompasses the tendency for people to seek friends or colleagues. Lastly, setting limits the knowledge obtained and the type of actions which can be performed based on the location of the building occupant.

The following research question has been answered: " How does culture, in combination with cues, settings and affiliation, influence response-phase behaviour and time and total evacuation time ? ”. To answer the research question, a case study was introduced. In this case study library evacuations have been considered in Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey and the UK. Within the context of this case study a questionnaire and an agent-based model have been developed.

The results show that that there are significant differences in the number of response tasks being performed. Turkey performs the highest number of response tasks, followed in a decreasing order by Poland, Czech Republic and the UK. Furthermore, it has been found that response behaviour in all countries is influenced by cues, setting and affiliation, which results in significant differences between the countries for their response and evacuation time. It has been found that, as with the number of response tasks, Turkey has the highest evacuation and response times, followed in a decreasing order by Poland, Czech Republic and the UK. Lastly, it has been found that affiliation and being informed by a staff member highly affect response and evacuation times, while the setting and seeing fire do not. The degrees to which these factors influence response and evacuation times differ per country.

Overall, this research acknowledges the importance of performing cross-cultural research for evacuation behaviour. It has shown the need for policy makers and emergency planners to discuss effects of culture on evacuations. Additionally, it provides a new approach to study the effect of cultures, in combination with cues, setting and affiliation, on response-phase behaviour and response and evacuation times.